How To Avoid Surprise Car Dealership Fees


Car buying can be stressful – you’re making a big decision and committing to pay thousands of dollars. We want to help you shop smarter; that’s why we have assembled our list of car buying tips. In this post, I want to focus on one important car buying tip: how to avoid surprise dealership fees.


What car dealership fees do I have to pay?

We hear a lot of the same questions: Are documentation fees negotiable? What about destination charges? How much do I need to pay for tax, title, and license fees?

The only thing consistent about dealership fees is that they’re all over the place.

The car buying process is full of surprises, like dealer preparation fees, documentation fees, delivery fees, administrative fees, DMV fees, advertising fees, and of course sales tax! It’s like whack-a-mole, but the only thing taking a hit is your wallet. The real answer is that these fees are not standard. They vary by dealer and by state. And they can add up to thousands of dollars.

There’s only one way to protect yourself from unnecessary fees when buying a car. Fortunately, it’s easy: get three “drive-away” quotes from three different dealers before you go to the lot. Our tools can help you keep track and ensure you’re comparing apples to apples.

How to get an Out-the-Door Quote

For a new car, ask the dealer to email you a “Purchase Order.” For a used car, you want the “Book-Out Sheet.” Either way, the price you’re quoted should clearly list all the taxes, title, and other fees, and it should show the car’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). If they’re not all there, ask again. If the dealer won’t provide this info, move on to the next dealer.

Fight the temptation to visit the dealer before they give you the drive-away number in writing – that’s how you’ll end up in the back office, short on patience, blood sugar, time, and choices.

Arrive Smarter. Leave Richer.

Knowing the price before you go to the dealer can save you a lot of money because you:

  1. Compare apples to apples – Different dealers charge different fees for the same products, and trying to compare the fine print between them is like comparing apples and oranges. If you get an “out-the-door” quote, you can make sure you’re comparing the same price across the board.

  2. Get your loan before you go to the dealership – An “out-the-door” number means you can tell your bank or credit union the exact amount you need to borrow. ‘Outside’ financing could save you $1,000 or more.

What if I arrive and the dealer has changed the agreement?

It’s rare, but it happens. You didn’t order etching. You wouldn’t pay for fabric protection. Or some other fee has popped up.

You always have the option of respectfully requesting the contract you agree to, or calling the dealer who gave you the next best price and telling them you’ll be right over. The key is that you are in control.

Bottom Line:

Don’t waste your time trying to decipher mysterious fees in fine print. Get three or more “out-the-door” quotes before going to the dealer. Arrange Outside financing to save yourself unnecessary headaches – and $1,000 you didn’t know you were going to spend.

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